Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Creepy Visit To Bodmin Jail


A couple of weeks ago, myself & Jon had the very rare opportunity to head out for the day with only our eldest son Tyne as my parents had kindly offered to look after the babies for the afternoon.

We gave Tyne the freedom to choose where we would visit, but we all knew where he was going to pick - he had been talking about Bodmin Jail for weeks, ever since I first mentioned it to him when he had asked me about being allowed to visit "a real prison".

Tyne is almost 4 years old you see, and ever since he read Allan Ahlberg's Cops & Robbers and watched Home Alone at Christmas, he has been utterly fixated with "robberies" (which is what he calls robbers!), arresting people and sending them to jail!

So I told him about Bodmin Jail - a historic former prison built in the late 1700s  that is now a family tourist attraction - and he couldn't wait to visit.

Bodmin in Cornwall is around a 90 minute drive from where we live, so we set off around 11.30 am and arrived for 1pm which was great timing.

As soon as you drive up to the jail, the feeling of eeriness creeps over you - the building is large and imposing, and something about it just lets you know that it's a place of darkness and misery.




A Spooky Experience....

When we arrived, I was rather desperate for the loo after our long drive and hopped out of the car to nip into the portacabin toilets while Jon parked the car up in the overflow car park.

I hadn't looked at the building or its surroundings at all at this point, I was just very much in need of a wee so I popped into the loo, did my business and came out of the cubicle...it was only at that moment, as I turned to my left to walk towards the sink and wash my hands, that I suddenly felt very uneasy.

I had this feeling of dread and fear wash over me...I don't know where it came from as I had felt just fine only moments before, but I suddenly had a very strong desire not to walk in that direction...I felt that something truly dreadful was waiting for me over there to my left and that if I willingly walked that way then I would be sorry.

I was even frightened to look too far over in that direction, and instead I decided to forego washing my hands (ick) and just LEAVE the toilets as quickly as possible....I practically ran out of the door (and almost collided with a member of staff outside, oops!).

Don't worry, I had hand sanitizer so it was all good....but remember this story for later on...the ending was quite interesting!

Inside The Jail...




An example of modern prison life...

Compared to prison life back then...

So...Jon & Tyne joined a slightly spooked me, and we headed inside to the jail itself...we paid our entrance fee of £20 (£10 each for adults, and under 5's go free!) and walked around to the exhibition entrance behind the cafe.

The jail is set over 6 levels, and you are free to walk around in your own time in any order you want to....we decided to explore the entry level first and then head up to the top before working our way down to the basement.

The jail cells contained mannequins to portray the various prisoners of years gone by, with plaques on the walls explaining who they were and how they came to be in Bodmin Jail.

Some of the stories were extremely sad but all of them very interesting.

The first cells we came to were the condemned cells, and the plaque on the wall informed us that the first two prisoners held there to await their executions were Selina Wadge for the murder of her infant son and William Bartlett for the murder of his illegitimate baby daughter.

The mannequins weren't exactly Madame Tussauds style quality or realism but this didn't take away from the attraction at all, as it was their stories that were the real draw...to read about the practises that took place and the way the prisoners lived, as well as what drove many of them to commit their crimes and the punishments they faced was both enthralling and unnerving all at once.

One particular tale that really haunted me was that of a woman who was hung for begging, and was taken to the gallows with her children clinging to her skirts and her baby still suckling at her breast....as it was common practise for children to be locked up with their mothers for lack of anything else to do with them.

There were other stories that haunted me too, and seeing the place where the condemned were taken to be executed gave me a real chill.

In the "long room" (I forget which level this was on, unfortunately!) there is a fantastic display around the story of Selina Wadge...whom I mentioned earlier as being the first person to be hung at Bodmin Jail... Selina's story is one that has haunted me since our visit.




She was a young single mother to two children - by all accounts a good and loving mother - but when she met a man who offered to care and provide for her and her eldest child on the condition that she did away with the youngest child (due to his disability), she could apparently see no other option so she took her baby out onto the moors and dropped him down a well.

Selina was sentenced to death, and was filled with remorse and guilt at her actions - her spirit is said to roam the halls of bodmin jail to this day, appearing mostly to young children as she attempts to apologise and make up for the harm she brought to her own young child.

I found the story so sad and moving in itself, but the display really added to the overall feel...there was a projection of Selina as she dropped her baby to the well, followed by a moving projection of her ghost with a voiceover talking through her feelings and thoughts around her act - it was honestly very powerful and very well put together - a must-see although perhaps a tad spooky for any particular easily-spooked younger visitors so maybe check that area out first yourself if you're concerned that your little ones may not like it.

In other areas of the prison there items on display such as instruments of torture and hard labour, displays around the kitchen and the food the prisoners lived on (I was quite amused to see scouse on the list...a dish my mother has forced on me since childhood which I often compared to prison gruel!) as well many more stories around the prisoners who once resided in Bodmin Jail's walls - the wall dedicated to the stories of the child prisoners was another that stuck with me.







Our tour, taken at a leisurely pace with an inquisitive child who wanted to explore every nook and cranny, took around an hour and 45 minutes to complete and once it was done, we headed into the cafe for refreshments.

The cafe area was very modern, clean and welcoming with a good variety of light bites, hot and cold drinks (and even a bar), and cakes etc. We each had a hot drink and a cake, which were very nice.



We then had a little look around the gift shop which stocked everything from Bodmin Jail t shirts and books on its history, to novelty items - Tyne chose a set of toy handcuffs and we were pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices.

Once we were outside, we decided to have a look around the abandoned outer buildings - from inside the jail we had looked through a locked door and seen the naval prison which has fallen into ruin and no longer has a roof but its cells are all still in place - it was a very creepy looking area and we were keen to look around.

Unfortunately most of the area is behind locked gates, but you can step inside the building and into the first 3 or 4 cells which was very interesting - this area was probably our favourite to explore and was certainly the eeriest part of the prison to look around.





The Reason For My Earlier Spooky Experience?

We were ready to head back to the car when we noticed another display just to the left of the portacabin toilets I had visited earlier...

To my surprise and horror, I saw that the display was actually the execution chamber complete with a dummy hanging - below the dummys body you could see the arched doorway beneath where the body would be inspected and taken away.

When I looked over to the toilets I had earlier been in, I realised that the area to my left - where I had felt so much dread and fear at the prospect of walking towards - was here. The place of execution.

Perhaps it was just coincidence, but suddenly that feeling which had previously made no sense to me - now it made perfect sense. Whether there was a ghostly force hanging around in that area or whether I was simply picking up on the feelings of dread and fear that those prisoners must have felt all those years ago, I don't know...but whatever the reason, I hope to never feel such fear and anguish again!



And so, that was our first visit to Bodmin Jail - of all the days out I have had in my life I have to say that this was the one that has stuck with me the most afterwards. It's difficult to say whether I enjoyed the experience - I did in a way as it was so interesting - but it was also creepy and disturbing in other ways. 

The stories and sights stuck with me for days afterwards, and I can't say that's ever happened to me before while visiting any other tourist attraction.

Would I recommend a visit to Bodmin Jail? 100%!! I think it is an absolute must see attraction in Cornwall - certainly the best tourist attraction in the area that I have visited to date.

Would I return? Probably not...I just don't think I can handle the emotions it stirred up in me again (although I may have no choice, since my son and partner LOVED it so much and are already talking of returning!)

Although having said that, a visit to one of their regular ghost tours would seriously tempt me back....

To find out more about Bodmin Jail, please visit www.bodminjail.org



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2 comments

  1. Gosh! What an experience. I SO SO badly want to visit, it looks so interesting! Those stories about the Mums!! Especially the one that was still breastfeeding, how horrifying!!! Great post Hayley, really enjoyed reading! xx

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  2. I wrote for their site for a while, so I've been there a lot. It's only twenty minutes away. I even did the after dark experience overnight which was honestly so much fun, but definitely creepy. Glad you had such a good time, but bits of it definitely give me the creeps too! ;)

    Stevie x

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